Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Thomas Shevory, Ithaca College
I spent part of Tuesday morning last week in the Erie County Courthouse in Buffalo, New York. I was there to attend a hearing for Nushawn Williams. I wasn’t sure which courtroom it was in and was told to check with the Prosecutor’s Office. The receptionist there told me that they weren’t handling the case.
“That’s federal, I think,” she said. But I knew that wasn’t true, and said so. Someone else, apparently an attorney, was standing there, and she asked him, “Do you know who’s handling the Nushawn Williams case”? “No,” he said. A woman standing next to him asked, “Who’s that?” “He’s the AIDS guy,” the attorney responded. The receptionist made a phone call, talked for a bit, and then told me, “We’re both wrong. It’s being handled by the Attorney General’s Office, but you’re in the right building.” She then directed me to the appropriate courtroom.
Television cameras there were awaiting Nushawn’s arrival, but there were three cases on the docket before his. Finally, they brought him in, shackled. The camera operators were at the ready. Daniel P. Grasso, Nushawn’s attorney, asked Judge John Michalski to reconsider his denial of a previous motion dismissing the state’s current case against Nushawn. The state’s attorney responded briefly. The judge quickly upheld his previous denial. And that was that.
Except that Nushawn intervened to request a change of counsel. His attorney, he complained, hadn’t visited him before the hearing, and he hadn’t even been sure what it was about. The judged denied his request practically before it was out of his mouth.
I waited for a bit and then left, walking back through the corridor and past the scrum of news people by the elevator. I recognized one of them. She half-smiled. She had interviewed me a while back for one of the Buffalo television stations. I didn’t smile back. I felt the story was unfairly edited to further demonize him.
Nushawn Williams, infamous for supposedly spreading HIV around Chautauqua County, New York, in 1997, has served his entire twelve year sentence. But he is still in prison, and the state is trying to have him kept behind bars as a dangerous sex offender under its civil confinement statute. The legislation was pushed hard by Governor Elliot Spitzer, who eventually resigned when it was revealed that he had spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes while Attorney General and Governor.
I know Nushawn Williams quite well. In 2005, I published Notorious HIV, about his case. Writing the book, I interviewed him many times, and we became friends. Last year, I was in Mongolia and out of contact. When I left, I expected, upon my return, to greet him as a free man. But, while abroad, a learned about the state’s decision to try to keep him confined. I visited him a couple of weeks ago at the Wende Correctional Facility to reestablish contact. When I learned about the hearing, I decided to attend.
And now I want to devote some of this blog to his case.